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Obama, the "pop culture" president

Samantha Luiz's picture

 It’s been almost six years since Barack Obama made history by being the first black person to be elected president of the United States.

We watched and learnt as he also became the first president to effectively incorporate social media and networking into his campaign strategy. Just like how Franklin Roosevelt employed radio or JFK the television, Obama’s presidency represented a new era of politics, in his case leadership in the time of the internet.

In the spirit of things, Obama is also showing the public that politicians are not mere talking heads that go on and on about the economy and state of affairs. He is reminding us that politicians are humans too.

How, you ask?

Through embracing and utilizing popular culture like no president has done before. Don’t get me wrong, his predecessors have dribbled that ball a bit. Think about Richard Nixon’s famous picture with legend Elvis Presley taken in the oval office, JFK being serenaded by vixen Marilyn Monroe on his birthday or the appearance by Bill Clinton playing his saxaphone on The Arsenio Hall Show. Yes, previous presidents have welcomed popular culture but Obama is actually utilizing it as part of his political strategy.

Think about his March appearance on Between Two Ferns , an internet comedy series hosted by actor Zach Galifianakis. President Obama used the show as a platform to promote the website By the next day, traffic to the site had increased by a whopping 40%.

Between Two ferns meme. Source:

 How he managed this is the interesting part. He did not sit throughout the interview being boring and whatever politicians do but the audience saw the ‘real’ Obama- the normal, funny guy who has really cool comebacks. If you have watched Between Two Ferns, you’ll know how Zack enjoys mocking his guests and making them feel awkward. It was slam dunk to see the president giving Zack a taste of his own medicine, with witty responses that made reference to popular culture movies such as The Hangover franchise.

Essentially, this embracing of popular culture helps explain why Obama is so popular. In particular, it helps me understand how he manages to reach out to younger demographics, thus explaining why he has been called the first “pop culture president” of the United States.

And who can forget the famous presidential selfie that was taken at the memorial service of Nelson Mandela. The picture went viral on social networking sites with hundreds of tweets appreciating how ‘normal’ and cool the president is.

Following in her husband’s lead, Michelle Obama has earned herself the title “Pop Culture First Lady.” The first lady has appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Sesame Street. Not one to fall behind, she has a selfie of her own with pop star Jennifer Lopez captioned “Me and My girl…” You also have to see the video of her dancing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

The best part is President Obama manages to utilize popular culture without tarnishing his professional identity. He is the cool president- the president that can spend the day in diplomatic negotiations and still make it in time to roast Jimmy Kimmel at the Correspondence Dinner.



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